Mercedes-Benz's future is electric: Daimler chairman on why the S-Class marks 'start' of low-carbon approach

Ola Kallenius predicts 80 per cent of company's vehicles will be fully electric or PHEV by 2030

Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse, 2020, Outdoor, Fahraufnahme, Exterieur: Diamantweiß // Mercedes-Benz S-Class, 2020, outdoor, driving shot, exterior: diamond white
Powered by automated translation

When Mercedes-Benz revealed the all-new S-Class flagship recently, it pulled the covers off what many are saying will be the most advanced luxury car money can buy when it arrives in the UAE early next year.

Ola Kallenius, chairman of parent company Daimler, tells The National in an exclusive interview that while the Middle East's hunger for large engines will be satisfied with the inclusion of a twin-turbo V12 for a limited number of customers, the reality is that Mercedes is signing off on petrol and is in full swing to switch its entire fleet, including its sports division AMG, over to electricity.

“As you know, the automotive industry is in a transformation stage and there are two mega trends driving this revolution. The road towards CO2-neutral mobility – ie zero emissions – and the digitisation of software,” says Kallenius.

Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse, 2020, Outdoor, Interieur: Leder Nappa macchiatobeige/magmagrau // Mercedes-Benz S-Class, 2020, outdoor, interior: leather nappa macchiato beige/magma grey
A heads-up display in the S-class uses AR and puts a virtual screen equivalent to a 77-inch colour monitor in front of the driver

“The board’s Ambition 2039 strategy [outlines] that we are moving to a CO2-free future and we plan to do this within the next three life cycles of our products.”

He adds that this will include Mercedes-Benz’s performance arm AMG using technology it has gained through Formula One, with its hybrid cars winning the past six world championships with drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, as well as all but sealing its seventh world title, which will be decided on the Yas Marina Circuit on Friday, November 13.

I sometimes say as a joke to the engineers that if a 5-year-old or a board member from Daimler can operate it, then you have met your target

Initially, AMG products will be offered as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), allowing both a petrol and electric motor to operate before Mercedes reveals a fully electric AMG sports car later.

"We are in the process of developing performance hybridisation across the full AMG range that's very much in the spirit of taking Formula One technology to the road. Performance plug-in hybrids are not far away and they will be on all models before we develop fully electric AMG cars.

“We need to be sure that even the performance and luxury side of our portfolio is on the path towards CO2 neutrality, which means that we are not abandoning the performance segment, either,” explains Kallenius.

The new S-Class will be offered with an in-line six-cylinder hybrid engine for the majority of markets and especially China, which Kallenius says is bouncing back quickly after restrictions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, while the Middle East will continue to enjoy its larger V8 and V12 options for the foreseeable future.

Ola Källenius, Vorsitzender des Vorstands der Daimler AG & Leiter Mercedes-Benz Cars // Ola Källenius, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG & Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars
Ola Kallenius, chairman of Daimler 

“For now, we will offer our Middle East customers a choice that will include a V8, 48-volt hybrid system. And for the small group of connoisseurs who wish to have a V12, we will continue to produce this as well."

To satisfy territories as diverse as China, Europe, the US and the Middle East, which are in differing stages of advancing from fossil-fuel-powered engines to electricity, Mercedes needed to plan the development of the S-Class carefully, as this is a once-in-a-decade model that will straddle its transformation to CO2 neutrality.

Kallenius says the company is banking on three drivetrain options over the next 10 years that will comprise high-tech, efficient, clean-burning internal combustion engines that are electrified with 48-volt mild hybrid systems; PHEVs that offer a high range of EV-only power that’s backed by a petrol engine; and, finally, fully electric vehicles.

Mercedes will launch its EQS brand next year which will encompass a range of electric vehicles in the same way as AMG focuses on performance models. “As we move towards 2030, the electric vehicles side of the business will grow at the expense of the combustion side … we want least 80 per cent of our total sales by 2030 to be fully electric or PHEV," Kallenius says.

“The S-Class is the start of this process as it represents the pinnacle of our portfolio … where we tried to push the technology boundaries in every dimension.”

The engineers replaced 27 controls from the cockpit with facial recognition, intuitive hand swipe and fingerprint scanning are in place of buttons and dial, and a heads-up display uses augmented reality for navigation that puts a virtual screen equivalent to a 77-inch colour monitor in front of the driver.

‘We dedicated an enormous amount of time and resources over the past three years to make this the most intuitive, function-rich and connected car possible,” says Kallenius.

“I sometimes say as a joke for the engineers that if a 5-year-old kid or a board member from Daimler can operate it, then you have met your target. And the last time I tried, I was able to operate it!”

The new S-Class will launch in the UAE in January with prices and final specs yet to be announced.